Down in the Motor City

“You will never walk alone. In the shelter of each other we will live…”

Jars of Clay, ‘Shelter’

This past weekend was awesome. I headed down to Detroit mid-afternoon on Friday for a costume fitting, which was followed almost immediately by a friend’s birthday in Ferndale where I was finally able to meet her husband and adorable boys. The brownie sundaes were pretty tasty as well.

Those two things would have been cool on their own, but Saturday I had the opportunity to meet a really great group of people through two Detroit-centric events – Photowalk Detroit and the Epic Tweetup.

I’ll admit it. I was slightly nervous about Saturday. The photowalk came first and I had exchanged a grand total of one tweet with someone I had never met in real life to get more information about it. It was, however, an opportunity I couldn’t resist. For all her fallen grandeur and tarnished reputation, Detroit has its own beauty if you take the time to look. I would say I’m biased by the proximity with which I grew up to her, but we rarely came down to the city when I was a kid.

I won’t deny that Detroit has its problems. There are homeless and jobless.

Empty storefronts.

Beautiful buildings allowed to fall into disrepair.

That’s the part of the city so often seen in the news, but in the course of our walk we encountered people in the midst of their lives. It actually started with this bride’s arrival at the church kitty corner to our gathering place – the first of four wedding parties we encountered.

There were also families getting  an early dinner.

Children playing under the watchful eye of their parents at the waterfront.

Art – inside, outside and on the side of buildings.

The most important thing to be found, though, was the spirit of the people who want to see Detroit thrive again. They were out on that photowalk with me.

They also gathered that night at the Magic Stick for the Epic Tweetup, a celebration of Team Detroit’s winning the SXSW Chevy Roadtrip Challenge earlier this year.

Yes, it was a big party and there were a number of people feeling that the next day, but it was more than that. Somewhere around 500 people gathered from Detroit and beyond for this celebration. Introductions were made. Friendships were started. Business cards may not have made their way out of people’s purses and pockets much, but connections were made that are already being strengthened. There’s a magic in that.

For myself, I’m really glad I was able to be there and a part of it. I met some awesome people and I look forward to seeing them again and where all of this leads.

You don’t have to believe me alone about all of this amazingness. Here are some links if you’d like to see and read more about last weekend’s events.

Photowalk Detroit Flickrstream

#EpicTweetup Flickrstream

What #DETChevySXSW DID for Detroit

Getting EPIC in Detroit: #EpicTweetup

On Networking, Business Cards and the Detroit #EpicTweetup

@bchesnutt and @cbarger’s rendition of ‘Soul Man’

Falling in Love with Fried Green Tomatoes

I didn’t grow up eating green tomatoes. In fact – to be perfectly honest – my brother convinced me that I hated all tomatoes at a young age and it took an herb class in high school plus a few more years of exposure before I came to actually liking them. The concept of fried green tomatoes was completely foreign until I was introduced through the classic 1991 film of the same name.

Even before I had that tomato-liking revelation I was drawn to the idea of green tomatoes. What did they taste like? Were they better than red tomatoes? Was there a particular way such interesting produce was prepared? When I actually ran into these fascinating specimens last year at farmer’s market (conveniently in the parking lot across from my apartment) I had to pick up a pint.

Of course, the only context I had for the fruit was fried so I pulled a pack of tempura mix out of my cabinet and a frying pan from my rack. A mess later I fell in love. I’m salivating just thinking about it. For the uninitiated, green tomatoes are tarter and firmer than red tomatoes with a more intense flavor. You do have to use them fairly quickly because they will turn red on you and fried red tomatoes just aren’t the same. They’re also a whole lot mushier and messier.

Tempura Fried Green Tomatoes

2-3 green tomatoes (the fresher the better)

1 egg

1 cup flour

1 cup ice cold water

Frying oil

1)Prepare a place for your tomatoes once they are cooked whether that be paper towel on a plate or under a drying rack you’ll need something to absorb any excess oil

2) Put your oil on to heat. I don’t own a fry daddy or anything like that so I use best blend canola oil and a large frying pan over medium heat.

3) Slice your tomatoes. About a 1/4 inch or a little thinner is good.

4) Mix your tempura batter, preferably in something you can also use to dip the tomatoes. Beat the egg then add the ice cold water and mix the flour in lightly. Keep your fork, spoon, mixing utensil of choice at hand as you’ll want to do a light mix occasionally so that it doesn’t settle.

5) Check you oil. Put just a drop of batter in and if it begins to sizzle and look more solid you should be good. If you’ve never fried before this may take a little experimenting to get right. Just be patient.

6) If your oil is ready, dip your first tomato slice into the batter making sure it is totally coated and drop it in the oil. Repeat until pan has one single layer across it. Once the edges start to look a bit brown flip. Check to make sure the other side is brown, remove and repeat the process until all of your tomatoes are cooked.

These are best consumed fresh, but being single I’ve tried several techniques for leftovers. The best results thus far have been from cooling them on a rack and then wrapping them in paper towel. The paper towel absorbed a lot of excess moisture so they reheated nicely in my toaster oven.

Life Lessons from Final Fantasy VII

Last week was a very full, mostly sleep-deprived week. Thusly, those posts that I had made notations about which required any sort of deep consideration or research… yeah, they didn’t happen. In due time they will appear, but this weekend was a brain dead recovery kind of weekend. I really did get some things done before bonding with my game controller. I promise I did.

So, about 10 years ago (man, that makes me feel old) my Final Fantasy VII game got way laid by life and I have faithfully carried it along with me all that time thinking I would come back and finish it. When the time came a few months ago that I realized I might actually be able to play video games again I dusted it off and decided to start from scratch, then promptly found myself in rehearsal for 4 months.

This weekend we reunited once more and as I searched for Aeris in the Forgotten Capital and later scaled the Northern Crater there were several parallels between game life and real life that popped out to me.

Rest is the best and cheapest form of healing.

Just as a little rest can make a world of difference for your character’s hit and magical points, so it can in real life. When I look back at the worst colds, flues, etc. that I have had one common factor has been that they’ve taken me down in times where I was already worn out. Rest is essential to our bodies. It doesn’t just help keep our immune systems strong, but also keeps our brains fresh and impacts every other system in the body as well.

Treasure is usually off the beaten path.

Or – Just because you can see something doesn’t mean it won’t take effort to get there.

I am one of those players who check every chest and search out every treasure box, so I’m very familiar with the winding paths it sometimes takes to reach these treasures. Some are fairly simple. Take a short jaunt up that path and – Alakazam! – there it is for the plucking. Others taunt you as you go round and round searching for the way to reach them. With those half the prize is finally opening it.

Dreams and goals can be the same way. One goal I had for this past weekend was to clean out one of my inboxes. It wasn’t a complicated task. I just had to sit down and do it. An hour or two made a huge difference.

On the other hand, long term goals take time, perseverance and oftentimes lead us down paths we never would have guessed at the beginning. To be cliché, though, the journey is as important as the destination. If our dreams were handed to us in beribboned boxes before the journey even started would we really appreciate them as we would otherwise?

The best friends stick with you.

There are a lot of different kinds of friends. In the game world you’ve got a group of friends who are attempting to complete this big mission. There are betrayals and sacrifices and through it all they find out what they really mean to each other. This is true in real life as well.

There may not be a meteor threatening to destroy the planet, but we all face trials and through them we learn about each other. We either grow in recognizing that true friendship or realize that perhaps acquaintances in all we have in store for the future.

On a more random note, this reminds me of a podcast with Felicia Day that I listened to last week in which they were discussing regular friends versus airport friends. Who would you actually be willing to ask to drive you to airport? I had never thought about it before, but it is something of a distinction.

Your obstacles won’t get any easier with time, but if you stay on the right path you’ll be strong enough to overcome them.

Since Final Fantasy VII is a role playing game with this big world map there are times where you may become temporarily misplaced. Sometimes this means monsters who are a bit too strong for your abilities and you either die or escape with the skin of your teeth. Either way, you leave and don’t come back till you’re prepared to face it (unless you’re a masochist). By the time you make it back those monsters aren’t the challenge they were before.

When I look at my life now versus when I was in high school or even college I can see the things that I went through and learned that have prepared me to face the challenges of my life now. There are moments that I felt overwhelmed and there are things I would certainly do differently if faced with that choice again, but I am stronger for them and they made me who I am today.

Save points mean you’re headed in the right direction.

Anytime a big boss or plot point coming up there is a save point ready and waiting. True, it’s there in case you die, but it’s also a validation that you’re on the right path. We don’t have save points in real life, but there are moments in time that provide that same reassurance. Maybe its person you meet or an event you participate in. It can be as simple as a prayer or even a tweet, but it’s there for you to look back to when those obstacles arise that make you question, even briefly, the direction you’re headed.

That’s it for today. Those other thought-consuming, possibly controversial subjects I’ve been avoiding finishing will be coming soon. Also, be on the look out for some additions to the site pages and such in the near future. They will be arriving soon J

Ladyfingers & Tiramisu Brains: Creamy Temptation

“Why do you love it?”

<whisper> “The happy juice.” </whisper>

@InTheWarRoom

Mmmmm. Tiramisu. That lovely creamy concoction. It has coffee, chocolate AND marscapone. What’s not to love?

Until this past weekend, Marscapone and I had flirted from a distance and mingled with friends over dessert, but somehow missed that one on one introduction. If only we had made a point of doing this sooner. It is delish.

As lovely as marscapone is, though, I should mention that once I found out how easy ladyfingers are to make it was the most difficult ingredient for me to find. There was one store locally that I found it at, but I was going downstate to visit my family and Trader Joe’s has it for $1 less a container. It would make my heart happy if they built a Trader Joe’s closer than an hour away from here, or even a Whole Foods. Until then I shall just have to trek.

On to the recipe. I made a batch and a half because I knew I was taking it to work, so this would be enough for 2 9×9 dishes. Feel free to cut it in half or a third for a more normal number of servings.

Tiramisu

Brains or Classic
based on the recipe from AllRecipes.com

9 egg yolks

2 cups white sugar

16 oz marscapone cheese

20 oz heavy whipping cream

2 oz cooled espresso

1.5 oz Kahlua liqueur

2 batches of ladyfingers

1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

3 oz semi-sweet baking chocolate

1) Combine egg yolks and sugar in the top of a double boiler, over boiling water. Reduce heat to low, and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and whip yolks until thick and lemon colored.

I was a little nervous about the double boiler portion of these instructions initially. I don’t own a double boiler, so I did mine the do it yourself way and frankly was a bit worried at first by the whole sealing off the flow of air from boiling water. In reality it wasn’t that frightening and it worked. I used a stainless steel pot and bowl for mine. If you’ve never done it before you here’s what it looks like once you’ve set the bowl over the water (wait until its boiling to put the bowl on then turn the heat down).

2)  Add mascarpone to whipped yolks. Beat until combined. In a separate bowl, whip cream to stiff peaks. Gently fold into yolk mixture and set aside.

3) Split the lady fingers in half, and line the bottom and sides of a large glass bowl. Brush with coffee liqueur (and espresso mixed together). Spoon half of the cream filling over the lady fingers. Repeat ladyfingers, coffee liqueur and filling layers.

Since I was dividing my tiramisu into two separate dishes I decided to experiment a bit. In one dish I used the single pack of ladyfingers I could find at the store and in the other I used the ladyfingers I made. After trying both my taste buds informed me that the homemade ones were better by far. Also, I tried both dipping one side of the ladyfinger into the espresso mix and brushing it on. The dipping seemed easier. Just don’t dip for more than 5 seconds or the cookie will lose its structural integrity.

Garnish according to the variation of your choice and  refrigerate several hours or overnight.

Variation 1: Classic

To finish off the classic tiramisu simply dust with cocoa powder and add chocolate curls. These are made by taking a vegetable peeler and running it down the edge of the chocolate bar.

This is messy work as the chocolate is, of course, melting over your fingers as you attempt to curl it. For the sake of any other folks consuming your tiramisu, please wait to lick your fingers until the task is complete.

Variation 2: Brain

This one is a bit more complex. First of all, you need to build up the shape of the tiramisu to be convex instead of flat like your classic tiramisu. See how it is taller than the edges of the pie plate? Also, there is an indentation along the center for lobal separation.

Originally my intent had been to do the brain pattern with a frosting of some sort, but one of my co-workers is allergic to corn and my frosting supplies are not corn free so the first thing I did to add that brain look was cut up a few ladyfingers and lay them out in brainish shapes.

I wasn’t really satisfied with that result alone though, so I spread a bit of cream over to smooth up the edges and pulled out the chocolate.

To make the chocolate I put 3 oz of semi-sweet baking chocolate on the stovetop with 1 1/2 tbsp of sweet condensed milk and a bit of the cream mixture. As it melted I mixed and once it was mixing smoothly I removed it from the heat and allowed it to cool to the point that I could pipe it out into the brain pattern.

During all of this I did have the tiramisu in the fridge chilling and returned it there for the night after the chocolate was administered. Here’s the view from topside:

No matter which way you prepare it the dish is delicious and has received the co-worker mark of approval. Enjoy!

Ladyfingers & Tiramisu Brains: Sweet Finger Nibbling

“Men that fight off zombies don’t eat ladiesfingers.”

“Zombies do.”

@InTheWarRoom

As was, um, mentioned in my last post, there was a bit of a zombie outbreak in our office last Friday, so with a couple of birthdays and such going on it was decided that cake would be an excellent option.

Now, the gent who received the brunt of the shenanigans is a bit of a coffee addict as in he wrote a whole blog post around how good a certain cup of coffee was kind of addict and with zombie on the brain, well, I decided to make my first venture into Tiramisu also a design challenge. Goodbye boxed cake/brownie mix. Hello homemade Tiramisu brain.

As I worked on gathering the ingredients I ran into 2 supply problems, both of which being related to living in a micropolis surrounded by corn, wheat and sunflowers. I generally enjoy living here, but it just isn’t the kind of town where marscapone and ladyfingers are available in abundance. The first I was able to pick up while downstate visiting family, but those ladyfingers were evasive. So, I pulled a Betty Crocker and made them.

Beware – these make your kitchen smell lovely, but are dangerously tasty. If you leave them alone on the cooling rack too long they just may disappear.

Ladyfingers

via allrecipes.com

4 eggs, seperated

2/3 cup white sugar

7/8 cup all purpose flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (205 degrees C). Line two 17 x 12 inch baking sheets with baking parchment. Fit large pastry bag with a plain 1/2 inch round tube.

While I was at the grocery store immediately previous to starting, I forgot to get parchment so I tried silicon baking sheets and wax paper. Both worked. The silicon worked better. Also, I don’t have a pastry bag, so… Behold! The baggie of ladyfinger goodness!

Yes, I know. My baking supplies are soooo high end ;)

2. Place egg whites in bowl and beat on high until soft peaks start to form. Slowly add 2 tablespoons of the sugar and continue beating until stiff and glossy. In another bowl beat egg yolks and remaining sugar. Whip until thick and very pale in color.

3. Sift flour and baking powder together on a sheet of wax paper. Fold half the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture. Fold in flour, and then add the remaining egg whites. Transfer mixture to pastry bag and pipe out onto prepared baking sheet. Bake 8 minutes.

Two notes.

A) Think on how old your baking powder may be. Mine I’m pretty certain needs to be replaced or the ladyfingers would be fluffier. They still tasted absolutely delicious.

B) If you cook on silicon keep an eye out. They may take a minute or so longer to cook. Also, let them cool a little before attempting to remove them and they’ll come off cleaner.

Next up: Ladyfingers & Tiramisu Brains: Creamy Temptation

Don’t Let the Zombies Get You Down

As with any office, there are several things that are recurring themes of jokes. Papyrus, of course, is one of those, but another is zombies. I’m not sure who started it. It predates my arrival at the office and they have been rather popular in pop culture of late, but they pop up on a fairly regular basis.

Well, last Friday we had a bit of an occurrence, perhaps better termed an outbreak or even an attack. We made it through mostly unscathed.

The majority of the office has been cleaned up so you’d never know such a  thing occurred, but I’m afraid that one co-worker’s desk got it bad. So much so we had to tape it off.

It was sheer coincidence that it was the one co-worker who has been on vacation these past two weeks. Really. It could definitely be worse. His mug did survive the onslaught.

He really worries about that mug, too. (I can’t imagine why…) There were still a few ankle-biter zombies being chased out.

But the reinforcements had been called in and were taking care of the issue.

At least he has now been notified of the situation so that he’s prepared for any future outbreaks.

Along with one other co-worker. Strangely enough, it is the one who owns the Zombie Survival Guide cards.

One good thing did come out of all of this though – some nice brain Tiramisu style :)

Bling Giveaway Winner & My Top 5

Congratulations, Melissa!

Thank you to everyone who entered the giveaway! Your top fives will actually help me to choose which pieces to get samples of for future shows. I do plan to do future giveaways so keep your eyes out for information on them.

Knowing how difficult it can be to narrow down to five pieces, I thought I’d share mine with you.

Alaina’s Top 5

from the Fall/Winter 2010 catalog

1. Oyster Bar (pg 16)

2. Shifting Sands (pg 21)

3. Haute Chocolate (pg 32)

4. Ensenada (pg 42)

5. Susanne (pg 70)

Yes, I am a Star Wars Geek

Unfortunately, I am not a Star Wars geek* currently present at Star Wars Celebration V. I actually do have a friend who is there right now and did not share his destination when he mentioned going out of town. He will hear about this later.

In lieu of my physical presence there, I have been catching a few blogs about what has been going on from the front lines (though not the friend who is there…). In particular I’ve been following Jen of Epbot.com (also of Cakewrecks) and she has been posting pictures of some awesome costumes being worn by fans including both the insanely amazing and the amusing ones like the storm trooper Mexican wrestler and pimp Vader.

As a fan and a costumer, well, please excuse the drool on my keyboard.

Being the type to share my excitement with others, I felt that you all should be able to enjoy these amazing costumes (and other sights) as well so here are links to the posts she’s put up thus far.

Day 1, Part 1

Day 1, Part 2

Day 2, Part 1

Day 2, Part 2

Also, I think I need some of Katie Cook’s original art cards. I mean, did you see the Yoda? How cute is he? And Chewbacca? Totally want to take him home with me and bake him cookies.

*I generally use the term ‘geek’ to refer to myself, but am more of a geek with nerdish tendencies. Both the geek and nerd just seem to become more obvious to me as I get older. I have a feeling I was really just oblivious to their true extent when I was younger. If you are curious which of these may fit you better there is a nice article over at Wiki-how on the subject. You can find a link here.

Pretty in Pink

Three weeks later...

As some of you may have caught reading previous posts, we at our office have a fondness for pranks. Several of them have been posted to this blog in the past including one entry entitled ‘6 Steps to Awesome Office Decor’ which details how we decorated the developers side of the cubicle in response to a typographical prank they pulled on our content editor. The devs were all on vacation at the time and we expected that they would probably remove the decor, especially since we chose such a girly color.

This has not been the case.

In fact, three weeks have passed since the prank was initially pulled and the majority of the room is just as we decorated it for them. They’ve even cleaned the white board underneath the beads without taking it down. Not only that, but I felt the need to share with you the care they have taken with putting away the things that they have removed from their desks. Lest you disbelieve me, I have taken pictures to back me up.

Apparently they were collecting dust. Note the careful stacking that was done to place them inside the votive holder.

The rest of the petals I found on our storage shelf along with the neatly lined up votive holders. The stray bouquet was originally placed in the paper towel roll and only this week ended up on the storage unit when the white board was cleaned. The names tags (unpictured) have all found home near their work areas, though no longer on their chairs.

In the meantime, the Papyrus pranking continues. I am sure that this is just one chapter in a story that is not yet complete.

Holidays are in the Air: New Partylite Scents

Holidays? Already? Yep, I had the same thought (not that I haven’t already started Christmas shopping). The holidays may seem far away with the whole 90+ and humidity thing going on outside, but Halloween is coming in only 11.5 weeks. After that the holidays just keep piling up until after New Year’s. Don’t panic. There’s still plenty of time to get that pre-holiday to do list done.

All that to say that with all the blinging going on with lia sophia I’ve been remiss in sharing anything from the new Partylite catalogs. Now, I know that there are lots of new beautiful and whimsical home decor pieces in the Halloween and Holiday/Winter catalogs, but it’s really all about the new fragrances. There are nine new scents and seven favorites that have been brought back.

New Scents

Sugar Plum Fairies

Juicy plums, melons and peaches combine with floral notes for a magical aroma. Fulfills the wish for a sophisticated treat.

Peace on Earth

Heavenly fantasy floral blends jasmine and rose with a hint of spice and subtle woodsy notes. Share a feeling of hope and harmony.

Cinnamon Eggnog

Decadent eggnog is flavored with cinnamon and vanilla for a traditional, mouthwatering treat that makes holiday celebrations feel complete.

Leaves of Fun

Rich pumpkin fills the crisp air, laced with hints of cinnamon, mandarin and pine. Takes you to a pumpkin patch, falling leaves and all.

Gingerbread

Steaming gingerbread, flavored with a dash of cinnamon and ginger, stirs up memories of a favorite holiday sweet.

Spiced Cider

Apple cider simmer slowly spiced with comforting touches of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove. It’s the perfect way to warm up on a cool autumn day.

Spruce in the Snow

All the freshness of spruce, fir, cypress and pine, coated in a blanket of snow. Takes you to the calm and quiet of the winter woods.

Ebony Wood & Patchouli

The rich scent of Asian ebony wood mingles with musky patchouli for an exotic appeal. It’s a bit of the Orient, right at home.

Arctic Oasis

An invigorating spalsh of cool mint, floral and green note mingled with hints of pine and musk. Delivers the refreshingly pure scent of Arctic ice.

They’re Back!

Iced Snowberries

Sweet berries, apples and fruits are kept crisp by winter’s icy air while a dusting of vanilla and musk adds warmth. It’s the best of both worlds.

Cranberry Delight

A rich, fruity mix of cranberries, citrus and black currants is laced with warm vanilla for added sweetness. Creates an air of festivity.

Holiday Spices

A simmering blend of vanilla, connamon and cloves wraps your home in a cozy, warm embrace.

Hocus Pocus

Back by popular demand!

Coconut and praline add an unexpected twist to this mysterious blend of sugar, berries, grapefruit and floral notes. It’s a magical Halloween surprise.

Ginger Pumpkin

The right touch of ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon creates the inviting aroma of freshly-baked pumpkin delight.

Halloween Night

Rich butterscotch, vanilla and spices are slowly stirred into a batch of warm, sugary caramel. It’s a gooey, creamy sinfully sweet treat.

Spiced Plum

Back by popular demand!

Rich, succulent plums and pomegranates spiced with cinnamon, clove and vanilla. Delivers the sweet-and-spicy sensation of a fine warmed plum cordial.

Cinnamon & Bayberry

The fiery heat of cinnamon is complemented by the crispness of bayberry. It’s as if fresh Christmas greens have been brought indoors to a spiced holiday kitchen.

Peppermint Bark

Refreshing peppermint kissed with chocolate, mint leaves and vanilla. A decadent treat.

Cinnamon Sticks

This timeless holiday aroma comforts with its familiar, spicy warmth. Almost nothing says “home sweet home” better.

All scents are available now. Check out the Partylite page for current specials.
*Descriptions are courtesy of the Fall/Holiday 2010 catalog*

Previous Older Entries